Pacific Aria: What 250,000 hours of pampering looks like
WHAT lady of a certain age who has been around the traps and back wouldn't like a makeover?
Not just a little primping here, a small tweaking there, rather the Full Monty so she looks and feels a couple of decades younger?
Pacific Aria is the lady in question and she's just come out of Singapore after being given a major revamp involving a formidable team of stylists (900 specialists from 43 different nationalities working 250,000 hours) that has her sailing the seas with her lovely head held high knowing she is up there with the most modern of all ships plying our oceans.
Pacific Aria had a previous life as Ryndam, part of the Holland America fleet built in 1994.
Now with her transformation from European poise to contemporary Australian style and a new owner in P&O, she is beautiful and perfectly in tune with the type of relaxed cruising more and more Australians are demanding every year.
Pacific Aria is joined by her sister, Pacific Eden, both ships newly refurbished and now part of P&O's fleet of five.
Aria's facelift beams from every corner of the 1500 passenger liner: from stylish bars serving cutting-edge cocktails and luxe restaurants with sophisticated offerings, from the two resort-style swimming pools with their welcoming striped beds, private cabanas and hanging pods, from the glamorous shops (including the first Pandora outlet at sea), to the plush theatre, the busy casino, the Dome nightclub.
The opulence is everywhere: soft fabrics and quality materials beckon you in to lounges and bars, new brightly patterned carpets form a backdrop to restaurants, and objets d'art range from glamorous sculptures to quirky duck-feet lamp shades.
Aria and Eden's fit-outs are like no others on the oceans of the world.
The Tillburg Design team responsible for this eschewed the trends of other ship fit-outs and instead looked to hotels and restaurants for a boutique hotel or smart residential apartment look.
This approach is most noticeable in The Pantry, an international food market where the buffet has been banished for culinary creativity at eight different dining stations featuring Italian through to Mexican fare with delis and fish and chip stalls on the way.
High tables in The Pantry look out vast windows to the passing ocean while plush banquettes and small nooks welcome singles to mingle and couples and families to chill.
Food is served fresh to you - no piling up the plate at the buffet any more.
The Waterfront (main dining room) is another example of fashionable hotel vibe with both high and long tables, sophisticated floral decorations and calming colours
Speciality dining rooms are havens of glamour with multi-million dollar fit-outs: Sophia Loren looks sexily at you from the walls at Angelos Italian restaurant.
It is all dark-hued and moodily dramatic at Dragon Lady where the Asian-inspired cuisine is world class.
Style meets relaxed allure at Salt Grill by Luke Mangan.
Surcharges apply in these gorgeous restaurants but the price is miniscule compared to what you would pay in similar high-standard restaurants on shore.
You'll never be lost for something to do on Aria - if that's what you want, doing nothing is also a good option - with a host of activities from deck games and the inevitable karaoke to indulgent spa treatments at the Elemis Spa and lounging in the Thermal Suite on heated stone beds.
Entertainment is non-stop: Side Show Alley in the theatre is a pulsating song and dance event with performers inter-relating with characters on big screens.
On our short but very sweet voyage from Brisbane to Cairns, Aria called in at Hamilton Island.
Pop sensation Taylor Swift was in residence and had virtually taken over the entire island so we were content with swimming with the turtles at Turtle Bay (a suitable distance away from Miss Swift and her entourage), and a very glamorous lunch at the golf club on Dent Island.
Pacific Aria's arrival in Cairns caused a suitable flurry, with the media and town dignitaries all piling on board to welcome her to their city.
Pacific Aria will call Queensland home (joining year-round Brisbane-based Pacific Dawn), spending 10 of its first 12 months sailing from Brisbane on 40 cruises to destinations along the east coast, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.
The writer was a guest on board.
IF YOU GO:
According to industry figures, Queensland is the second biggest source market for Australian cruisers with nearly 240,000 Queenslanders cruising in 2014, an increase of 21% on the previous year.
Queensland is also home to more cruise destinations than any other state in Australia, with P&O ships sailing to nine ports along its coast this summer alone.
In recent years P&O has opened up a range of new Queensland ports including Mooloolaba and Moreton Island and Hamilton Island. Gladstone and Fraser Island are set to be added in the coming months.
Itineraries, prices and more details on:pocruises.com.au